Sunday, June 3, 2007

Stripers Are Running!

Rhode Island is famous for its saltwater fishing. We’re the smallest state in the nation, only 37 miles wide and 48 miles long, but we have 400 miles of coastline (compare that to California’s 800 mile length and 1340 miles of coast: we are truly exponential). Rhode Island waters are a veritable fisherman’s paradise, and not simply because they’re within an hour’s drive from anywhere in the state, and for many, within a short walk or bike ride. Giant tuna, yellowtail flounder, marlin and swordfish, blues—you name it, we’ve got it in abundance.
But it is the striped bass that is our state fish, duly elected by our legislature, and a favorite of locals. We pretty much stick to the names striped bass or striper, but it is sometimes called rockfish. Stripers tend to run close to shore, somewhat surprising (at least to me) for such a large and impressive catch. When I was in college, I used to walk to the beach with my friend Ray, who would fish for stripers off the jetty. I’d bring a book, and would barely finish a chapter before he had dinner for a small crowd.
A schooling breed that moves between fresh and salt water, the stripers have started their return from spawning in rivers and streams to the Atlantic shores and bays, and avid noncommercial fisherman are once again eagerly reeling them in from boats or surf. From now to fall, striped bass will be on our tables. Even if you don’t live in Rhode Island, you may enjoy this excellent eating fish, as it is found up and down the Atlantic coast.
Today a friend and neighbor caught a beautiful striper in the waters outside his house, and I changed dinner plans when I got a call asking me if I wanted some. It was late in the day when I picked it up, and the fish was so pristine, a fast and simple preparation was the obvious choice. This, of course, is usually the best course to take with a fresh piece of fish. You can treat striped bass much as you would any other firm fish--broiling, roasting, pan-frying, grilling, or steaming—and serve it plain or with a simple sauce, fresh salsa, pesto, or slice of herb butter (see recent post on herbs). Judge cooking time as you would for any fish steak or filet, by thickness, gauging according to a general rule of 10 minutes to the inch at a moderately hot heat (375-400 F).
I cooked my piece of striped bass by an old-fashioned and somewhat surprising (although completely logical) method, one that I have used for 35 years, first, back in the ‘70s, for sole and flounder, and later for fish steaks and thicker filets. It is always good, and lends itself to infinite variety (see Note).
Crusty Striped Bass
1 ½-2 lb fresh, line-caught wild striped bass
½ cup mayonnaise
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, chopped fine
5 or 6 whole pecans, chopped fine
small sprig tarragon, snipped, or other herb of choice
2 sliced scallions (optional)
Wash and pat filet dry if necessary; sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, briskly combine mayonnaise with oil, garlic, and pecans. Spread about half of this mixture over one side of your fish, and place face-down on a medium-hot grill or, if cooking indoors, ungreased heavy pan. Slather the remaining mayonnaise mixture on the topside of the fish. Cook, without moving, 4 or 5 minutes, or until the fish is brown and loosens easily; turn over (I use a long, heavy, unslotted spatula) and cook an additional 4 or 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove to a platter and scatter with tarragon and scallions; squeeze about ¼ lemon over all, and serve with additional lemon.
This will serve about 3 people, depending on the size of the fish. It requires nothing more than a fresh-tasting, cool salad, like cucumber or romaine; in another month, plainly dressed sliced tomatoes would be nice. The amount of sauce in the recipe is generous, so you may not need it all for a piece of fish on the smaller side.
Variations: You can use this sauce on almost any fish, such as salmon, haddock, or swordfish, and you can also use it on more delicate filets, such as sole or flounder, for broiling: if broiling any filet or steak, spread on one side only, and broil with that side up, about two inches from the heat source. You can leave out the nuts, change the nuts, add more garlic, add a little cayenne, or, for a more delicate fish, mix mayonnaise with soft unsalted butter and ¼ finely grated parmesan, and the nuts or not. A true aioli (a very garlicky, olive-oil based mayonnaise) is also nice. Now that I think about it, it’s probably time to talk about homemade mayonnaise; it’s a summer stable. Next post!

1 comment:

anne said...

I have been using that mayo mixture as well for years on my fish; however I have never pan sautéed it. I always use it on the grill mainly with blue fish, striper or any firm fish preferably un-skinned. I do not add the nuts; instead I’ll add maybe 2 tsp Dijon mustard or soy sauce. I take a filet with the skin still on and slather a generous amount of the mayo mixture on the flesh side. Then I put it on the hot grill skin side down, cover the grill and cook without turning until the top is brown and crusty and the fish is done. When you lift it off the grill the skin stays stuck to the grill and you lift off a beautiful, moist piece of fish. Jane, I plan to try your pan method soon – I never would have thought to do it that way! Anne